I was watching a game on Saturday, and the guys got to talking about the players who hit the most home runs but never were All-Stars:
Tim Salmon 299
Eric Karros 284
Matt Stairs 257
Kirk Gibson 255
Pat Burrell 255
Karros was one of the guys talking. One of the other guys mentioned that in 2000, at the All-Star break, Karros had 25 homers and 70 RBI. Of course, those numbers didn't mean then -- or at least, they didn't seem to mean -- what they might mean (or seem to mean) today. Today, Karros's 25 homers would be good enough for second in the National League; in 2000, they were just fifth. Today, Karros's 70 RBI would be good for third in the league; in 2000, they would have been just fifth (or maybe sixth).
Still, he was having a real good season. His line at the time was .265/.356/.553, with the only negative marker that low batting average. There were three National League first basemen on the All-Star team -- Mark McGwire, Andres Galarraga, and Todd Helton -- but when McGwire dropped out because of an injury, neither Karros nor any other first baseman took his place; Gallaraga started the game and Helton finished it.
Anyway, it's hard to feel too sorry for Karros. He fell off a cliff in the second half, with just six homers and 36 RBI (and shortstop-like slash stats).
Karros's best full seasons were 1995 and 1999, but while his first-half numbers in each were solid, they weren't were eye-popping. Today, there are 33 All-Stars per squad. In Karros's best years, there were only 29 (1995) or 30 (1999) spots per team. In '95, Karros was aced out by Fred McGriff and Mark Grace; in '99, by McGwire, Jeff Bagwell, and Sean Casey. McGriff, Grace, McGwire and Bagwell were all demonstrably better players than Karros. Casey was not, but he had a monster first half -- .371/.426/.623 -- in 1999.
Let's not shed too many tears for Eric Karros. The best part of his game was his power, and for a player of his era he didn't have all that much power. You may, on the other hand, fell just a little bit sorry for Tim Salmon. Karros's career OPS+ was 107; Salmon's was 128, and he twice finished seventh in MVP balloting. I don't know if he's the best player who was never an All-Star, but he's gotta be close.
As for Matt Stairs ... well, it's still early. He's only 41, and if this season's any guide, he's got plenty of good years to go. The real surprise here is Kirk Gibson, who was just as good as Salmon and probably is the only MVP who never made an All-Star team. Gibson was a legitimately great player for only five seasons, but it's surprising to find that he wasn't an All-Star even once during those seasons.
Actually, what's surprising isn't that none of these guys were All-Stars ... What's surprising is how many lesser players were. We've run lists before, but I'm awed by this number: 1,518. According to my colleague David Schoenfield, 1,518 major league players have been All-Stars. Including Scott Cooper. Twice.